The quasi-standoff between superstar cornerback Jalen Ramsey and the Jaguars has entered its third week. Ramsey, who reiterated last Thursday that his trade request still stands, missed the first game of his career on Sunday with back tightness and now sits at a career crossroads heading into Week 5. Jacksonville certainly isn’t going to give the two-time Pro Bowler away―the team reportedly turned down a trade offer that included two first-round picks, and recent reports suggest that owner Shad Khan strongly prefers to sign Ramsey to a long-term deal if possible. Plus, with quarterback Gardner Minshew II playing well in relief of an injured Nick Foles, the 2-2 Jaguars are still very much in contention in a wide-open AFC South, which will only increase the asking price for Ramsey even more.
If Ramsey’s determined to extricate himself from the Jaguars organization, the team may ultimately be behooved to concede. While most teams would love to add a perennial Pro Bowler to their secondary, the list of suitors for Ramsey’s services is limited by a few factors. Trade partners must have plenty of draft capital at their disposal (sorry, Houston) and have enough future cap space to (eventually) ink Ramsey to a market-setting deal likely worth north of $15 million per year (sorry, Atlanta). The potential field of trade partners is likely narrowed, too, by the fact that Ramsey doesn’t seem too keen on signing a long-term extension with a rebuilding squad, which should eliminate most noncontenders from throwing resources into what would amount to a short-term rental. With all that in mind, here are a few teams that could―and in some cases, should―make a move for the feisty ball-hawking cornerback.
The Lions have an ascending defense that looks to be one or two pieces away from taking a jump into elite status. Adding Ramsey could catalyze exactly that: Dropping the 24-year-old into a cornerbacks group that already features two-time Pro Bowler Darius Slay and Justin Coleman—who’s quickly becoming one of the best nickelbacks in the game—would give Detroit a lock-down secondary to pair with the team’s underrated pass-rushing front.
More than that, though, the Lions look like the perfect stylistic fit for the Jaguars’ playmaker. Ramsey has reportedly been irked by the Jaguars’ heavy utilization of zone coverage, which doesn’t always take advantage of his rare talent for following opponents’ best receivers all over the field and shutting them down wherever they line up. Matt Patricia’s squad, meanwhile, has played the most cover-1 coverage of any team this season, with their cornerbacks manning up and blanket opposing pass-catchers. As ESPN’s Mike Clay pointed out, the Lions shadowed the Chiefs’ top-three receivers on Sunday—even without Slay, who was dealing with a hamstring injury, in the lineup—and managed to hold Patrick Mahomes without a touchdown pass for the first time since Week 5 of last season (when, by the way, Kansas City faced Ramsey’s Jaguars). Adding Ramsey would boost the effectiveness of that system exponentially.
Detroit has the ammunition to go out and make the trade, too, at least in theory, as it still holds its own first- and second-rounders in both 2020 and 2021. Cap wise, the team should have enough wiggle room to extend Ramsey as well, with a projected $39 million and change to work with next season. And, at 2-1-1, Detroit is still well within striking distance for a run at the NFC North title. Adding Ramsey to a defensive secondary that’s racked up 27 passes defensed (fourth) and allowed a paltry 55 percent completion rate (second) and 80.3 opponent passer rating (sixth) could give the Lions defense the ability to shut down even the best offenses in the NFL.
The Eagles own one of the deepest and most talented rosters in football, but have one glaring, potentially fatal weakness: a banged-up, underperforming cornerbacks group. Jalen Mills and Cre’Von LeBlanc are in on the injured reserve, and Sidney Jones, Avonte Maddox, and Ronald Darby are all nursing injuries, forcing the team to add street free agents, reshuffle the defense, cross-train players at multiple spots, and simplify schemes just to field a starting group. The results have not been too pretty: The Eagles have surrendered nine passing touchdowns this year (tied for fourth most) and given up 323.8 passing yards per game, which ranks dead last.
GM Howie Roseman has been aggressive on the trade market over the past few seasons, and the team has the capital to make a big move. Philly still holds its first-round pick in each of the next two seasons and is projected to have about $32 million in 2020 cap space to work with, thanks in part to Carson Wentz’s still-manageable $18.7 million cap hit next year. Ramsey is the type of addition that could maximize the Eagles’ Super Bowl window. The Jags corner is set to count just $7.4 million against the cap this year and $13.7 million next year on a fifth-year option. At 2-2, Philly’s still in the NFC hunt, but if the team can’t figure out how to stop opposing quarterbacks from slicing and dicing up its secondary, that could change quickly.
The Ravens, like the Lions and Eagles, still hold both of their first-round picks in the next two years. But thanks to Lamar Jackson’s bargain of a rookie contract (which carries cap hits of $2.1, $2.6, and $3.0 million in 2019, 2020, and 2021, respectively), the team is projected to have more than $62 million in cap space in 2020. That ranks 10th and gives the team all the flexibility it needs to give Ramsey the market-setting contract he’ll be looking for. It’s no surprise, then, that Baltimore has been rumored to be one of the teams that’s aggressively pursued a trade with Jacksonville.
Baltimore surprisingly needs help in the back end, too. With Tavon Young on the IR and Jimmy Smith still dealing with a knee injury, the team’s secondary has been uncharacteristically porous through the first quarter of the season. The Ravens have allowed 300-yard passers in three straight games for the first time since September of 2012 and have surrendered 500-plus yards of offense in the past two—all too frequently letting opposing receivers run free down the field. Dropping Ramsey into the scheme opposite Marlon Humphrey could certainly help clean up those issues and give the team the turnover-creator it needs. Ramsey’s fearless, aggressive attitude would certainly fit in with Batimore’s defensive personality.
Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs have what might be the best bargain in football: Patrick Mahomes’s rookie contract. With cap hits of just $4.5 million and $5.2 million over the next two seasons, Kansas City has the short-term cap flexibility—plus its first-round picks in 2020 and 2021, and an extra second in 2020—to make another bold move (pairing with their offseason acquisition of Frank Clark) to push their improving young defense over the top. Longer term, the team would likely have to make some concessions at other positions to fit both a Ramsey extension and Mahomes’s sure-to-be-record-breaking new contract under the cap, but both players are talents the Chiefs could build their roster around. That’s why it’s not surprising that Kansas City has been one of the teams most closely linked to the Jags in Ramsey trade rumors.
Kansas City’s top-flight offense makes the team one of the favorites in the AFC, but it’s impossible to ignore just how balanced the Patriots have looked on both sides of the ball in the first month of the season. If the Chiefs think they need a boost to put themselves in the best position to get past New England in this year’s AFC playoffs, getting a playmaker like Ramsey is one hell of a way to do it.
Speaking of Ramsey’s trash-talking prowess, the Seahawks lost a Richard Sherman–sized chip from their shoulder when they let the perennial All Pro go prior to last season. Seattle seems pleased with the development of Shaquill Griffin and Trey Flowers, but Ramsey would represent a massive upgrade for a team whose pass defense just hasn’t been the same the past year or so. Seattle has the ammo to make the move: They hold first-round picks in both 2020 and 2021 and have an additional second-rounder in 2020 that could help sweeten a potential deal. Their projected $69.9 million in cap space next season ranks eighth among all teams. Plus, the transition from Todd Wash’s defense in Jacksonville to Pete Carroll’s in Seattle would be basically seamless, considering Wash is a former Carroll assistant. At 3-1, the Seahawks look like contenders in the NFC West.
Of course, Seattle’s scheme could be a problem for Ramsey, who, as mentioned above, wants to play more man-coverage looks. The Seahawks are reportedly one of the teams that have made inquiries into Ramsey’s availability, and they’ve always been aggressive on the trade market since Carroll and GM John Schneider have been in charge. But the team may be reticent to give up too much to bring Ramsey in: They’ve been bitten in the past with high-profile trades for Percy Harvin and Jimmy Graham, just gave away draft capital for Jadeveon Clowney, and may be more likely to avoid rocking the boat (in the form of adding a player who might not want to play in their scheme) and instead roll with the homegrown talent they’re developing instead.
San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers have one of the most improved defensive units in football this year. Dee Ford and rookie Nick Bosa have helped transform a formerly ineffective pass rush, linebacker Kwon Alexander has been a revelation in the middle of the defense, veteran cornerback Richard Sherman has turned back the clock, and third-year pro Ahkello Witherspoon had emerged as a playmaking force opposite Sherman through the first three weeks. But with Witherspoon suffering a foot sprain in the team’s Week 3 win over the Steelers—an injury that could keep him out over a month—the team suddenly has a big need at the cornerback spot, and the offseason free-agent signing of Jason Verrett doesn’t appear to be the answer.
Insert Ramsey, who, paired with Sherman, would give the Niners a mind-bogglingly brash cornerback duo. More importantly, it’d give San Francisco the firepower in the secondary to snuff out the passing attacks of division rivals like the Rams and Seahawks. The 49ers have been aggressive in adding defensive talent over the past couple of years and, while reports indicate they’re not pursuing Ramsey, San Francisco can’t be counted out in this race. Like Seattle, the team runs a Jacksonville-styled zone scheme—which would help Ramsey hit the ground running but also act as a deterrent to Ramsey signing long term.
The Vikings are another team that’s been rumored to have inquired about Ramsey, which makes a lot of sense. Mike Zimmer is a defensive-minded head coach who’s always placed a high value on cornerbacks, and a potential Ramsey trade would give the Vikings the chance to grab an established All-Pro player at the position. In the short term, Ramsey would be a massive boost for the team’s banged-up secondary and would form a potent cornerback duo with former All-Pro Xavier Rhodes. Longer term, the Jaguars playmaker could give the team the depth it will need at the position with Mackensie Alexander and Trae Waynes hitting free agency next year.
While Minnesota isn’t swimming in cap space like some of the other teams on this list—the Vikings are actually projected to be $8.4 million over the cap in 2020—it does have some intriguing trade chips in the form of young, talented players. The Vikings could dangle either Waynes or Mackensie, or better yet, make the recently extended Stefon Diggs a part of the deal. For a team that runs the ball more than just about anyone in the NFL, paying Kirk Cousins, Adam Thielen, and Diggs big-money contracts might not make all that much sense.